Human Rights in Ukraine – 2008
The latest Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union report produced with the cooperation of 30 human rights organizations from all regions of Ukraine was made public today, 25 June 2009 in Kyiv.
The presentation came on the eve of International Day in support of Victims of Torture. No accident since the continuing use of torture and ill-treatment remains a serious problem in Ukraine.
While one of the positive features of the last year has been increased cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, its creation of a special Department for Monitoring Human Rights, the problem of torture of people in police detention in order to extract a confession has yet to be resolved.
Virtually no progress at all can be seen in the State Department for the Execution of Sentences, and Ukraine continues to be in breach of its commitments before the Council of Europe with regard to this Departments status. The same problems continue year in year out: the Department is closed off and resistant to change, the complaint system is seriously inadequate and continuing protests by prisoners are often denied or misrepresented, and virtually never responded to in an adequate manner.
Not surprisingly socio-economic issues were very much in the foreground during the year, with the divide between rich and poor widening. The rise in prices and in communal charges meant that the number of those living in poverty rose. The government is clearly not prioritizing defence of human rights, and it is not surprising that people feel themselves to be unprotected.
One of the most disturbing areas where the lack of will to carry out reforms is most evident is with regard to reforming the judicial system. Vital changes which have long needed to be implemented are simply not being passed. On the other hand, 2008 saw outrageous examples where politicians made their disregard for the independence of the judiciary flagrantly clear. Together with the fact that even when justice is apparently achieved, and court rulings issued, around 70% of them are not being enforced.
The continuing use of excessive surveillance can be seen by a significant increase since 2005 in the number of warrants to intercept communications issued by appellate courts. There were 15 thousand in 2005 and more than 25 thousand in 2008. These figures significantly exceed analogous figures in European countries where more than one thousand orders are issued per year just in France and the Netherlands. A third of the warrants in 2008 were received by investigative units of the Security Service [SBU].
A particular area of concern during 2008 and into 2009 has been over encroachments on freedom of speech. The National Expert Commission for the Protection of Public Morality became extremely active in the second half of the year, and has issued some extraordinary decisions, including a conclusion that a novel by renowned writer Oles Ulyanenko is pornographic. All of this is taking place with a law which is dangerously vague and unforeseeable, and an apparent wish to intrude in areas which cannot be considered necessary in a democracy.
One vital institution for human rights protection should be the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson. The level of activity is woefully inadequate, as evidenced even by the failure to provide a report each year as required by the law. On Wednesday 24 June, the fifth “annual” report was presented in parliament, and has only just become available to the public today. One of the many areas where the Ombudsperson could be playing an enormous role is in national preventive mechanisms as per the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, however the list of missed opportunities is much longer.
All of this is frustratingly similar to the responses from other government institutions. Very many reforms, often prepared with the participation of human rights organizations, need only political will, yet this is lacking.
The report covers other areas of concern, including environmental rights, the rights of refugees and others. It has been published first in Ukrainian and is already available on the Internet at: http://www.helsinki.org.ua/index.php?r=a1b7c5, and will be printed in English shortly.